After an action-packed Chinese Grand Prix, the Formula 1 field heads straight from Shanghai to Sakhir for the third round of the 2017 season, as part of the first back-to-back sequence on the championship calendar.
|Bahrain International Circuit|
|Location||Sakhir, Bahrain||Circuit Length||5.412 km / 3.363 mi|
|Opened||2004||First Grand Prix||2004|
|Turns||15||Lap Record||1:31.447 – Pedro de la Rosa (2005)|
The entire concept of racing in the Middle East and Gulf states has been bubbling under the surface since the early 1980s, but it took almost a further 25 years to turn the dream into reality when the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain played host to the third round of the 2004 Formula 1 season, at the Hermann Tilke-designed Bahrain International Circuit.
Costing some $150 million to construct, there were initially fears – it being positioned in the middle of a desert and all – that sand billowing across the track would pose a problem. But organisers found a clever solution: spraying exposed sections of sand with a chemical adhesive to bind it together!
The track layout is typical Tilke fare: long straights, big braking zones and a fiddly, twisty middle sector of the lap to punish tyres and cars with handling deficiencies. It’s one of the toughest circuits on brakes and cooling, with track temperatures regularly nudging upwards of 50 degrees Celsius or more.
The decision to switch the Grand Prix to a night-time schedule from 2014 onwards has considerably eased those concerns and made for a spectacular backdrop in the desert.
|2017 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix|
|Event Dates||14-16 April 2017||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 18:00-19:30||Free Practice Session 3||Sat 15:00-16:00|
|Qualifying||Sat 18:00-19:00||Race (57 laps)||Sun 18:00-20:00|
|Driver Steward||Danny Sullivan||Pirelli Tyres||Super Soft / Soft / Medium|
|2016 Pole Winner||Lewis Hamilton||2016 Race Winner||Nico Rosberg (pictured above)|
Session times quoted in Arabia Standard Time (GMT + 03:00)
Rewind to 2016
Last year’s running of the Bahrain Grand Prix marked the second round of the 2016 Formula 1 season, where Nico Rosberg came into the weekend as the championship leader thanks to his victory at the season-opener in Australia.
In the aftermath of that race’s shocking collision between Esteban Gutiérrez and Fernando Alonso, the latter was ruled out of the Grand Prix with broken ribs and a pneumothorax. As a result, his seat at McLaren was occupied by the team’s reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who would make his Grand Prix debut.
Rosberg, meanwhile, was riding the crest of four successive race wins thanks to a strong run at the end of 2015, but his teammate Lewis Hamilton claimed top honours in Saturday evening’s qualifying session – the last to be run under the sport’s thankfully short-lived flirtation with its ‘elimination’ model.
There was drama before the start of the race when Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel pulled off on the formation lap when his engine blew. The German had qualified third-fastest and looked to be the only major threat to the dominant Mercedes’ in the race.
The start of the race saw Rosberg get the better jump on a sluggish Hamilton off the line. The Englishman’s future teammate, Valtteri Bottas, tried to capitalise on Hamilton’s cautious approach to Turn 1, but only succeeded in hitting the Mercedes driver as Hamilton turned across his nose. Hamilton was tipped into a half-spin and fell to sixth.
His dramas, coupled with Vettel’s failure to start, all but handed a fifth successive victory to Rosberg on a plate. The German had a comfortable run to the flag and was never really threatened by the chasing sister Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen, who finished the race in second place.
Hamilton clawed his way back to third, ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who improved on the team’s superb Australian Grand Prix debut where the Frenchman had placed sixth.
Rosberg’s victory increased his lead at the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings to a 17-point margin over Hamilton. It would later turn out that he had also extended a trend to five successive seasons where the winner in Bahrain would go on to win the Drivers’ Championship crown – the previous four Grands Prix winners had been Sebastian Vettel (2012-13) and Lewis Hamilton (2014-15).
The Form Guide
With Sebastian Vettel’s superb victory in Australia and Lewis Hamilton’s counter-attack a fortnight later in China, the honours are now even between Mercedes and Ferrari after the first two Grands Prix of 2017. Hamilton and Vettel are tied at the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings, while Mercedes leads Ferrari by a solitary point in the Constructors’ Championship fight.
The performance advantage enjoyed by these two teams at each Grand Prix has varied according to track temperature. Where conditions were hotter in Australia, Vettel’s Ferrari was able to manage its tyre wear much better than Hamilton’s Mercedes. Conversely, the cooler conditions in China played right into the hands of the Silver Arrows.
Past form suggests that Ferrari should therefore be the form team at Sakhir, given its traditionally hot conditions. Practice times will be a poor guide, however – particularly the daytime-scheduled FP1 and FP3 sessions – given track temperatures will cool significantly under floodlights.
While there was rightly plenty of praise for Max Verstappen’s stellar drive to third place from sixteenth on the grid at Shanghai, it must still be noted that the Red Bull Racing team is a distant ‘best of the rest’ outfit on current form. Daniel Ricciardo will be desperate to return as the team’s ‘number one’ driver after being outshone by his younger teammate, so expect a few fireworks from the determined Australian this weekend.
|Bahrain Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||22°C – 38°C||Saturday||22°C – 37°C||Sunday||23°C – 28°C|
Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Scuderia Ferrari